Unlike other diseases that have developed in past years, COVID-19 became a reality for most Americans in late February and most likely changed our lives forever. This is the first time a new disease has drastically changed how we live our lives and operate our businesses.
In the beginning we were scrambling to figure out how our businesses would operate as long-reaching shelter-in-place orders were mandated for most states. We adapted by adjusting the daily operations of almost all aspects of our businesses. Just as quickly as these changes entered our lives, we now find ourselves at another precipice – to start preparing for what reopening may look like and how we can keep employees safe and customers reassured that doing business with our organizations is safe.
While no single standard will fit all businesses and organizations, we have organized a guideline with four key drivers to help you navigate your way to safely reopening your business.
By preparing properly, setting the right expectations, communicating your message and monitoring and evaluating results, you can feel confident that the decisions you make will help guide you to the smoothest and most effective transition into a more normalized business reopening.
First and foremost, it’s important to realize that COVID-19 is still here. People are still being infected and transmitting the virus. It’s our job as businesses to keep our employees and customers safe.
Before reopening can begin, it is important to be prepared and have a plan. Unlike when this pandemic first began and we didn’t have the time to make well-informed decisions, we do have the time now and should make sure we are better prepared for the reopening of our economy.
First, make sure you have the most up-to-date information about state and local government executive orders, mandates, guidelines and recommendations. We are all assuming that the reopen will come with rules or suggestions in regards to crowd control, social distancing and disinfection.
You should be preparing to have a phone or online meeting with your key people to help develop a plan before your employees return to the work place.
Create a timeline of key steps, as these plans need to be distributed to your employees before they return to your place of business.
Failure to think ahead may cause a lot of unnecessary confusion and employees may feel that if you are unprepared you are only interested in the bottom line and not employee safety. So put the time in now and do it right.
Your work teams (employees, staff, associates) are experiencing lots of emotions right now. Some are scared and probably still shocked at what has transpired over the last two months. Some may have been laid off or furloughed and have different financial worries than they did two months ago. Some have been home schooling children and are yearning to get back to their work life.
In your preparations it is important to consider what returning work looks like through the eyes of your employees (and customers). This may require you to set many different expectations for your team.
When you properly set expectations, you’re keeping your team focused on safety, mitigating frustration and allowing for constructive criticism. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all with expectations for reopening, but we have compiled a short list of safety-related ideas for limiting exposure and spread of COVID-19.
First, limiting crowds or gatherings in your work spaces is a key factor and, depending on your business, some or all of these may be helpful:
Staffing Needs. Ask yourself, who needs to be in the office? Even after reopening, if some employees can effectively do their jobs at home, it’s probably best they continue to do so, at least in the short run.
A good relationship with your cleaning contractor will make it much easier to have your facility disinfected properly when the need arises. Three other areas to consider below should help:
Social Distancing Guidelines. Yep, we’re still doing this, even after reopening! For the foreseeable future, this is the new way of life!
Separate Shifts. If large groups of employees start work at the same time, it may be a good idea to stagger start times for employees. An example could be to have Group A clock-in at 8:45 am, followed by disinfection of door and clock-in area, followed by 9:00 am clock-in for Group B.
You may also be able to split your team into smaller shifts or explore creative options with flextime. There may be employees willing to work in the evening, with the idea that they will be there with less people in the office.
Spaced Out. Do you have options to space employees out? Many offices have clusters of cubicles where one section can be completely full and the next section completely empty. If you have the option to keep work spaces at least 6 feet apart, it’s highly advisable to do so.
Limit crowds in congregating areas like conference rooms or lunch rooms. You can also limit the number of employees in restrooms to one at a time by taking a look at the locks on the door.
PPE. Source and offer personal protective equipment for your work teams. For your employees, going to work is the same as being out in public, so they may wear masks; or you may choose to have everyone wear masks.
The supply chain for PPE is still stressed and most PPE is hard to acquire, probably more expensive than a month ago and shipping times are delayed. It’s crucial to vet sources for purchasing PPE, as you will find usage levels high and availability low.
The most common PPE you should consider providing are gloves and masks. However, have a system in place to help ensure these items don’t disappear.
Promote Healthy Personal Hygiene Habits. It’s so important for everyone to remember to properly wash their hands, stay home when someone is sick and use PPE correctly.
Speaking of staying home if someone is sick, it’s a good idea to suggest employees check the CDC site often, as information on symptoms changes. Here’s the CDC COVID-19 site, with information on symptoms and what to do if you’re sick: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
Once you have planned and set the expectations for your team, it is important that employees have access to this information.
Remember all the changes and emotions everyone is experiencing? This is why they need the information about the reopening communicated to them. They may need to alter their typical routine before the first day back. Maybe someone always went out for lunch, but now they may need to be prepared to pack their own lunch.
Even if all the information is disseminated to the work force before the reopen, everyone appreciates a well thought out reminder system, and proper signage helps to convey the message that you care about employee and customer safety and health.
Information changes almost on a daily basis. It’s a good practice to make sure the employees understand that any new guidelines can be changed, removed or expanded upon in the future.
Monitor which of these new initiatives are effective and at what cost. Are the results you intended being achieved? If anything becomes troublesome, you may need to brainstorm new alternatives to previous guidelines that work better for your situation.
Stay up to date with local and state guidelines and make sure your policies are compliant. Be ready to hear employee suggestions and also reports of unsafe behavior.
Ongoing evaluation of your policies is essential to the program’s success. Ideally, we hope that reopening is as least troublesome as possible. However, during these unprecedented times, it is always best to err on the side of caution and safety. By incorporating these suggestions into your plan, you can help keep yourself and employees safe while operating your business.
For more information or to download our Ultimate Guide to Selecting a Janitorial Services Partner, visit www.brycoservices.com. For more info on CDC guidelines for businesses, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html.